Greece and another summer of hunger


Helena Smith in today’s Guardian reports from Greece on the “unravelling social fabric” of that country. The draconian austerity imposed by the European Union has made beggars of many Greeks and according to a UNICEF report earlier this year, nearly 600,000 children live under the poverty line – more than half that number lack basic daily nutritional needs.

I wrote last summer (here and here) about the crisis interviewing academics, NGO’s and those queuing for meagre hand-outs recently impoverished by the cuts. I focused on community action and how people were feeding each other from their gardens – survival strategies against the onslaught of NeoLiberal bankers set on profit and punishment. Here was the shock in action, the management and manipulation of crisis, the confiscatory deflation (see Chile, Argentina, Mexico etc, etc); the revenge of the elites; here was the project to destroy social cohesion (because there is no such thing as Society).

Here’s a picture of that idea failing.

Volunteers prepare and serve potato soup for the poor and homeless in a Municipal Soup kitchen in Athens, Greece
Volunteers prepare and serve potato soup for the poor and homeless in a Municipal Soup kitchen in Athens, Greece


My last paragraph tried to sketch the scene outside the Municipal Soup kitchen in a way that photography couldn’t.

“In the afternoon, the municipal soup kitchen has a slightly carnival atmosphere. Africans, Kurds, Arabs and Bangladeshis all congregate in their little groups talking animatedly about their troubles. Who knows their tortuous routes to Europe, but they are being fed. There is a blur of grubby children running this way and that. Women in headscarves picnic on the grass with chunks of Greek bread. Men of all shades discuss politics and perhaps wonder about the families that they have left in yet more difficult, dusty places.
Natassa has returned with her husband to help carry more potatoes home in a shopping basket on wheels. He is tired and a little resigned, never imagining that his dotage would be like this. “We are good people” he says. The lowing sun casts long, sharp shadows that cut the ground into the jagged shapes of the railings around the building. Arm in arm. Two old people as if on promenade. Then she turns and her face lights with something that is between pride and humour.

“I may be a beggar” she says, “but I am still a lady”

She is, for that moment, all of Greece.

©Stuart Freedman 2012

David Cameron and the Leni Riefenstahl moment…

Roger Tooth in today’s Guardian makes an excellent point when he comments about David Cameron, the Prime Minister appointing two visual journalists as ‘vanity photographers’.

“Yes, we know what their kitchens look like, thank you”

“But we’ve had a surfeit of “behind the scenes” pictures of both coalition leaders; too many pictures of Cameron gurning at his new baby have led to this sort of material becoming a devalued currency”.

Quite. As if having the majority of the unquestioning press having bought into the ‘spending review’ to pay for an economic crisis caused by the gamblers of international finance wasn’t enough, Cameron’s ’embeds’ – both of whom have done extensive work for the Conservative Party – have been paid for from the public purse. At a time of alleged attrition. Both have been recruited as civil servants on short-term contracts thus avoiding the normal competitive employment process.

As the true heir to New Labour spin, Cameron (whose only other job was as a PR executive at Carlton) has similarly surrounded himself with ‘advisors‘. The issue here is that unlike the White House Press corp or Presidential photographers, there is little explanation about the context, the voracity or the quality of the ‘historical’ archive that these two will produce. Artists have always had wealthy patrons and the excuse is usually vanity, but to have such control of images at the heart of government seems to me a paranoia par excellence.

I’m sure that the images will be carefully crafted to show just how much the former PR man, married to an Astor and his chancellor (a man who will inherit a knighthood and the fortune of the present Baronet of Ballintaylor) are really just like us and are also having to tighten their belts. We are all in it together … I’m also sure that the images will be used by lazy picture desks clamouring for ‘intimacy’. Interesting though that the prevalence of military embedding in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has spread and, in the age of ‘citizen journalism’, just how much the Centre is able to get its message out in exactly the way that it wants.

Sometimes however, there are more important things than photography and journalism. At a time of the dismantling of the post-war consensus, the welfare state and perhaps the very idea of a society perhaps we as citizens should ask of these appointments: cui bono – who benefits?

Here are some pictures from an assignment for the Times Magazine on David Cameron that I think were intimate, human and, despite my personal opinions, I gave what I felt to be a fair and balanced impression.

Because that was my job.

As a journalist.

UK - Oxfordshire - David Cameron, Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party, with his late son Ivan, who suffered from cerebral palsy and epilepsy

UK - Oxfordshire - David Cameron, Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party
UK - Oxfordshire - David Cameron, Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party

UK - Oxfordshire - David Cameron, Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party carries his daughter whilst pouring coffee at home
UK - Oxfordshire - David Cameron, Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party at a local meeting

UK - Oxfordshire - David Cameron, Conservative Party Leader and Conservative MP for Whitney in his constituency office

The Word

It’s amazing what you find in the ‘papers these days. I opened the Grauniad this morning and found a cover feature on The Word.

The Word was a ground breaking (in terms of taste and errr… editorial judgement) British ‘yoof’ television show that showcased music and heralded the ‘reality’ concept that you find everywhere on television nowadays.

I was assigned by the Times Magazine to do a feature about the show in the mid-nineties. I stumbled upon the trannies (or most of them) a couple of years ago and managed to scan perhaps a dozen. I put them onto my archive. And them forgot about them. Until this morning. Now, I suppose the hard working busy picture desk on G2 could have searched for them but instead, they simply ran an entire feature with screengrabs…

Here’s a bit of a selection…

UK - London - Terry Christian in rehearsals for the cult British Television show, "The Word"

UK - London - A stage hand raises signage before transmission of the cult British TV show, "The Word"
UK - London - Members of the audience prepare to dance on the cult British television show, "The Word"
UK - London - Mark Lammar lights a cigarette in his dressing room before an edition of the cult British television show, "The Word"
UK - London - Audience members before transmission of the cult TV show "The Word"
UK - London - Mark Lammar in rehearsals for the cult British Television show, "The Word"

The enemy within

I have written before about the increasing use of private security and the erosion of liberty in public space so I was interested in a piece in today’s Guardian, ironically, the result of a Freedom of Information request:

City of London security guards told to report ‘suspicious’ photographers

It seems increasingly clear that unelected, untrained and under qualified security guards from private companies (operating for profit) are deciding who has freedom to walk the streets and carry out perfectly legal activities … like taking photographs in a public space.

Interestingly, the article asserts that both the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) and John Yates, Britain’s most senior counter-terrorism officer, have warned that police risk losing the support of the public through the inappropriate use of section 44.

Surely not.

I first photographed the burgeoning private security industry in the late 1990s for several magazines and over the years have continued to have assignments to do so.

UK - London - A private security 'operative' patrols South London council estate
UK - London - A security guard at a gated community monitors a bank of closed circuit television screens.